Wednesday, 14 November 2012


When I was still  at school, I spent four years studying a modern European language - let's call it Esperanto. I quit it before I had to sit any formal exams in it, because I really didn't like the teacher. Also, one of the methods they used to teach us was to plonk us in front of an video with no subtitles and expect us to learn it. I remember watching it in increasing horror, becoming more and more certain I it was beyond me.

Bizarrely, I have avoided this country for nearly all of my life, largely because it reminds me of a feeling bad at a language. And  Mrs Roberts screeching at mee that I was like "a half shut knife in this class".

But, we were looking for somewhere to take the Boy, and Esperant is close by and the flights were cheap and not at unholy hours. So we booked.

We decided that I would do most of the talking, but it would be good to get one of those "teach yourself..." type books to refresh me.

The thing is, somehow something must have seeped into my brain. I can remember all the basic stuff, like saying "hello", "goodbye", and a whole bunch of extraneous shit that is almost entirely useless. I looked up a few book courses online and asked my husband to buy one as he works next to a big bookshop. I asked for one which seemed to cover the basics in brief but was more aimed at people who already had a little bit of the language.

My husband knows absolutely none of it, and his pronunciation is beyond atrocious, even for the words that are in common useage in English. He got a book for complete beginners.

So I am spending this evening typing this and listening to bits of Esperanto that I can remember, that will be more or less useless in a tourist context. My husband is hunched over the book, his brow furrowed, trying to learn something that will be of little use to him as:
a) it is genuinely useless stuff for the purposes of a weekend away and,
b)  if he did want to introduce Bernard to Sylvia, I would be able to do it for him and
c) even if he really should introduce Sylvia to Bernard, he always forgets these social niceties in English, and Sylvia and Bernard would probably end up staring awkwardly at each other and end up trying to strike up a conversation about the weather

He says not to worry. For some reason I do, like Mrs Roberts is going to appear at customs and not let me into Esperant until I have remembered the rules for negative verbs (or whatever they're called) and can correctly catergorise sets of nouns by gender. It feels like sitting an exam that I am ill-prepared for, despite the fact several million tourists a year, some with no Esperant at all, go to the bit we're going to.


  1. I'm sure it will be fine! I studied French for three years, with the most appalling teacher, but still find it handy when I travel to France. Though I've never needed to be able to say "ouvrez la fenetre." And I've always tried to teach myself a bit of a language when I visit the country. I find it useful just because I can read some basic signs - not because I can actually say anything.

    I also laughed at your point c) - that's exactly my husband too!

  2. I keep find myself saying random words from other languages, bits of Hungarian, Spanish and odd Slavic things.

    1. I'm not surprised. I believe that we have a "language centre" in our brain, and when we can't find the word in one foreign language, we source it from one of the others. When I was can't find the word in Chinese, Thai kicks in, etc etc.